Antarctic Treaty System Resilience Research Project

-What's New-

January 17, 2020

The report of the special session on Antarctic Treaty System Resilience at PLS12, organised by Kobe PCRC, is now available: Kobe PCRC Special Session – Antarctic Treaty System Resilience.

December 3, 2019

Kobe PCRC organized two special panels, in collaboration with the SCAR-SCHASS Action Group on PoLSciNex, at the 12th Polar Law Symposium.

September 6, 2019

Extended abstract of the presentations at the PCRC-ArCS Special Session on Antarctic are now available.

July 1, 2019

Kobe PCRC, in collaboration with SCAR-SCHASS Action Group on PoLSciNex, will convene two special panels at the 12th Polar Law Symposium, to be held in Hobart, Tasmania, 1-4 December 2019. See details here.

June 18, 2019

Professor Shibata gave a plenary speech on “The Antarctic Treaty System: Its Achievements and Future Challenges” at 8th Malaysian International Seminar on Antarctica (MISA-8), held at University Putra Malaysia.

April 3-5, 2019

Prof. Shibata, Director of the PCRC, attended the Standing Committee on Humanities and Social Sciences (SC-HASS) under Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR), held in the Antarctic gateway city of Ushuaia, Argentina, 3-5 April 2019). See the details from here.

Conference Report

April 3-5, 2019

Panels on ATS resilience and PoLSciNex convened at SCAR SC-HASS

At the biennial conference of the Standing Committee on Humanities and Social Sciences (SC-HASS) under Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR), held in the Antarctic gateway city of Ushuaia, Argentina, 3-5 April 2019, Director Shibata, in collaboration with Julia Jabour of University of Tasmania and Luis Valentin Ferrada of University of Chile, convened two panels: one on the Antarctic Treaty System Resilience and one on Policy-Law-Science Nexus in Antarctica. See the details of program from here.

As to the ATS resilience, the members of the project, including Lilian del Castro of University of Buenos Aires, Gustavo Ramirez Buchheister of University of Magallanes, Chile, Yelena Yarmakova, Ph.D. candidate, University of Oslo, Jason Thompson, MA candidate, KU Leuven, Belgium, and Carolina Flores, recent graduate from Faculty of Law, University of Chile, met on 2 April for discussing a book project proposal.

As to the PoLSciNex project, please see the newly established webpage of SCHASS, including the presentation slide from the open business meeting held on 5 April 2019.

December 19, 2018

The International Workshop on The Resilience of the Antarctic Treaty System to Future Challenges

The continent of Antarctica and its governing treaty system will celebrate sixty years of peace, cooperation, and scientific advancement in the year 2021. Its founding document, the Antarctic Treaty, was a peace treaty that effectively shelved the territorial disputes over the claims made to the continent by seven claimant states, maintaining the status quo of the time to the present day. This freezing of territorial claims allowed the continent to be dedicated to peace which is the interest of all humankind and the advancement of science for all states. Over the following half-century, the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) expanded to include agreements, measures, and protocols that emphasized consensus-based decision-making on issues including comprehensive environmental protection, banning mineral exploitation & extraction, and regulating commercial tourism.

Despite the successes of the ATS, critics have recently called the strength of the system into question. Scholars in the field of international relations claim that since key instruments of the ATS will come up for renegotiation in the coming decades, the regime could become drastically weakened or collapse completely. Of note is the possible review of the Protocol on Environmental Protection (Madrid Protocol), the agreement that banned mineral exploitation and strengthened the environmental protection regime on the continent. These scholars also state that the current consensus-based decision-making used in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) is becoming ineffective as the number of states involved with the ATS grows. Finally, natural scientists that work on the continent claim that their advice is not adequately considered within the current Antarctic governance regime. These claims place doubt in the strength, legitimacy, and resilience of the current Antarctic Treaty System and challenges the continuation of the continent’s peaceful status quo.

To answer these critiques, The International Workshop on The Resilience of the Antarctic Treaty System to Future Challenges was held at Kobe University in December 2018 to begin a project to assess the strength of the ATS using evidence-based legal research. The university’s Polar Cooperation Research Centre and its director Akiho Shibata organized the workshop along with Julia Jabour of the University of Tasmania (via skype) and Luis Valentin Ferrada of University of Chile. Polar law experts from across the world were in attendance and included, Jill Barrett (Queen Mary), Kees Bastmeijer (Tilburg University), Rachael Lorna Johnstone (University of Akureyri), and Nigel Bankes (University of Calgary). Several early-career scholars interested in the Antarctic international law also attended the workshop.

Akiho Shibata delivered the opening address by presenting the arguments given by critics of the ATS and set the workshop’s hypothesis that the ATS is resilient, legitimate, and can withstand future challenges due to the flexibility built into the system. While it is not a perfect system of governance for the continent, it is better than a weaker regime or no regime at all and is, therefore, important to defend. For this reason, the purpose of this workshop was to begin the work of the greater ATS Resilience project by identifying the present and future challenges that the system must face. These credible challenges will be used to craft scenarios to test the resilience of the system and determine which areas need further strengthening.

Experts in Antarctic law were invited to present their insights on the current state of the ATS and future challenges that they see for the system. Luis Valentín Ferrada began the session by highlighting two specific challenges. First, the vast cultural, economic, legal, political, religious, and social differences between the states party to the ATS, and specifically the territorial claimant states, make finding common ground increasingly difficult as the system grows. When merging these difficulties with the agendas of the other non-state organizations involved with the decision-making processes, the complexity of the current consensus-based system increases exponentially. If this complexity results in the failure to achieve consensus on measures, the legitimacy of the ATS will begin to falter. The second challenge identified was how the language used in ATS measures makes it difficult to adapt them into national law, creating a further barrier to the effectiveness of the treaty regime.

Jill Barrett continued the theme of examining areas that can damage the legitimacy of the current governance regime by asking how the ATS relates to the rest of the world, how easy is it for states to join, and how does it engage with nonmembers. Both members and nonmembers need to be able to easily interact with and contribute to the system for it to continue to grow and evolve. If states believe that taking part in the ATS is ineffective for their interests, they may begin to disregard it in favor of another regime or no regime at all. At its core, the Antarctic Treaty is a peace treaty that should be open to all states and the ATS should expand outreach measures to nonmembers.

Kees Bastmeijer began his remarks by questioning how much could the ATS change while still maintaining the character of the system. While flexibility in the ATS and in the treaty’s consultative parties is important, certain key provisions like Article IV, dedication to science, inclusiveness, inspections, environmental protection, and consensus need to be maintained. If these core pillars of the system are compromised, the ATS would become a substantially different regime with consequences ranging from weakened authority to total collapse. Some examples of challenges to consider in this regard are global disputes that could spread to the Antarctic, increased commercial use of the continent that conflicts with science, and lack of enforcement powers for actions against the treaty system.

The workshop concluded with a discussion about the ideas and challenges presented by the speakers. Arctic law scholars in attendance commented on the similarities and differences between the governance regimes of the two polar regions. Both feature consensus-based decision-making bodies, hierarchies of states and organizations, and overlapping agreements to govern the regions. Also noted were the widespread portrayals of conflict in both regions by the media when, in reality, states tend to follow the rules put in place to maintain the peace. With regards to the proposed project to test the resilience of the ATS, it was suggested to find the thresholds of how much change could occur to the ATS before the goals of the system would be skewed. It was also agreed that the method to use realistic scenarios to “stress test” the system to determine its resilience would be the best way to proceed. The workshop closed after a fruitful discussion and with the goal to craft a book proposal in the first months of 2019. The project team members will reconvene next in Ushuaia, Argentina in April 2019. The final output of the project is planned to be published as a book in 2021 to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty coming into force.

The International Workshop on The Resilience of the Antarctic Treaty System to Future Challenges was held on December 19th, 2018 at Kobe University, Japan and was coordinated by Kobe University’s Polar Cooperation Research Centre with the support of the GSICS Kino-Kyoka Fund and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Kakenhi (18KT0006).

Reported by Jason Thompson